Sometimes, as Jesus advises us in the face of adversity, you just have to turn the other cheek. And we know as a matter of human practice, often keeping our mouths shut when faced with an unwitting taunt or insult, though difficult at the time, in the longer run is the right thing to do. More peace and harmony, and certainly fewer wars would result if mankind accepted that there are times when silence truly is golden and unquestionably the best course of action.
But does that set us up to endure a level of personal pain suffered in the name of keeping the peace?
I think we tend to hold our families to a different standard than we do our friends, acquaintances, colleagues and strangers. Have you ever been so incensed by a close family member’s behavior that you wanted to scream at them? Perhaps you have had a real Donnybrook confrontation with them in the past. Maybe you refused to attend a family function because “Uncle Phil” was going to be there. If not ourselves, don’t we all have friends who are not on speaking terms with a member of their family for some slight in their past?
Do we hold our expectations and standards for acceptable behavior on a different level for family members than we do for friends? Do we freely put up with slights and boorish behaviour from our friends that we would never tolerate from family? Or the other way around? Are our standards of acceptable behavior different from one group to another?
It’s not difficult to witness cases of an individual in deep pain or denial, refusing to call out bad behavior, all in the name of keeping the family peace. At times, to avoid a confrontation with a difficult relative, there is a palatable level of pressure from others within the family group to just “shut up, and let it pass. It is just Aunt Bea being herself.” Such a statement, combined with a rolling of the eyes, is supposed to be justification for an individual to stifle their frustrations, a salve and rationalization for Aunt Bea being the bitch she is.
But is that right? Is such behavior by otherwise well-meaning family member a form of abuse in itself? Are they not being judgmental, implying that your reaction to the pain is in itself, bad behavior and unjustified?
Where is it written that my need for being treated with respect and dignity should be held in less regard, and thus less important, than “Aunt Bea’s” right to spout off cruel statements or act-out in hurtful ways?
I’m not talking about the occasional, unintended acts of insensitivity that we’ve all thrown out there by mistake. I’ve had more than my share of times when I’ve neglected to engage my brain before opening my mouth, knowing the instant the words passed over my lips I had made a major faux paux, and must begin apologizing with my very next breath. Open mouth, insert foot. No amount of chewing gets rid of the bad taste of shoe leather. We’ve all done it; it’s in our nature.
Part of being a well-grounded person requires a certain level of protective curtain when dealing with another human. I consider my curtain just about transparent when I’m with my spouse. True human intimacy can only come from a deep, abiding trust, a trust that allows me to share my deepest fears and weakness with her, knowing that such honest risk-taking on my part will be accepted for what it is, and not be taken advantage of.
The other end of the conundrum might require a concrete wall a foot thick to protect ourselves from an over-bearing colleague or destructive boss at work, for example. We must be continuously on our toes, and cautious for our every word and action under these conditions. We have the need, and the right, to protect ourselves and maintain our well-being in such toxic surroundings.
And between these two extremes, we may cut certain family members and special friends extra slack, because we honestly know and accept them, and we know their hearts.
But sometimes, the attacks become too much, and the burden of carrying the heavy wall of protection becomes too great for us. The protection required for continued imperviousness to the lies, the attacks, the snide comments, the un-truths becomes just too much. In such a case, the difficult decision requires us to cut that person loose, to remove them from our circle. The time is right to allow that old school mate to pass out of our vision, to let an old colleague go.
And the most difficult is to realize that a family member has just gone so far beyond the bounds of respect and human decency that no amount of interaction will protect us from their lies, their deceit, the pain they cause. And as difficult as it might be, we must accept that taking care of our self-preservation and well-being is the most important service we can do for ourselves and those we love around us.
Sometimes, “you gotta’ let ‘em go,” and sadly, that’s what I had to do this week. I’d run out of cheeks to turn.